2020 has been a doozy of a year and I, for one, have been on an emotional rollercoaster. As a busy working professional with two young children, I have struggled for a while with anxiety. The feeling of complete overwhelm. To be honest, I didn’t realise that it was classified as anxiety, I just knew that sometimes, getting the kids shoes on to get out the door in the morning felt like it was too much. And I know that I am far from the only one struggling.
In honour of World Mental Health Day this year, I thought I would share some of the ways that I have been adapting to try to take better care of my mental health. Hopefully, one of them works for you.
In yoga, they say that it is good to make the blood boil every day. The catch-22 is that when you are feeling low, it is tough to get moving, even if you know you will feel much better for it. I find I need to get out of bed and exercise first thing in the morning or I will put it off and put it off until it is bedtime and I have run out of time.
Some of my favourite ways to get motivated:
Go for a walk with a friend - you are less likely to stay in bed if you have someone else who will hold you accountable
Set up a program using an app - having an electronic prompt isn’t quite as motivating as an in person prompt, but it is a close second. You might count your steps, or use something like the Nike app to set up a program (free during COVID!)
Throw a dance party in your kitchen - exercise doesn’t have to be all pumping weights and running around town. A boogie around the house combines music and movement - two fantastic mood elevators
- Book into a gym class or set up a time with a personal trainer
Probably the most important thing is to find something that you love. Don’t try to force yourself to pump weights if you hate it. Don’t go jogging if you would rather eat a live scorpion (speaking from personal experience).
Meditation and Mindfulness
I first discovered meditation through yoga, but I was always more interested in the flow and the movement rather than sitting still and trying to clear my mind. It took a long time for me to understand that to meditate, your mind doesn’t need to be a blank slate. It is normal for thoughts to enter your head, and doesn’t mean that you are doing it wrong.
I find that if I try to give myself some quiet space for even 5-10 minutes a day to sit and focus on my breathing, I am calmer, more patient, and happier as a person. YouTube has some great guided meditations, or you can try an app like Calm or HeadSpace.
Have an Early Night
You know how kids get super grumpy when they are tired? I have to confess that I never grew out of it. You might hear rumours about super-successful people like Barack Obama sleeping for around four hours a night, but don’t buy into the hype. A good night’s sleep is linked to healthy brain function, reduces your risk of depression, and is linked to better relationships with your spouse and your kids.
When I am feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, I try not to give in to the temptation to lie like a zombie front of the TV or scroll mindlessly through Instagram. I feel a million times better if I put my phone away, do a little bit of reading, a guided meditation, and then have an early night.
Keep a To Do List
I am sure I am not the only one who lies awake at night thinking about everything I need to do or thinks of something uber-important while making breakfast but then forgets it by the time I sit down. This is where your trusty to-do list comes in handy. I have one both on my phone and in an old-school notebook. Writing it down helps you to free your mind from that task until you sit down to action it.
Then, when I sit down to do some work, I can assess and prioritise my day to ensure I am as efficient as possible.
Switch Off from Work
I have worked from home for years, and with my team spread out around the world, this isn’t going to change any time soon. But working from home and living in the smartphone era does make it particularly challenging to switch off from work. Even when you love your job, having some separation and downtime is crucial for your mental health.
I have heard all sorts of tips including “walking to work” by heading around the block at the start and finish of your day to help you decompress and getting dressed as though you are heading out to the office. Because I have meetings at all hours of the evenings and squeeze in work wherever I can around my kids, these two tricks don’t work for me.
What I do try to do is to have at least one day per week where I don’t look at emails, messages or social media and enjoy some family time. I have also been making an effort not to check work messages unless I have the time to action anything required.
If you work more of a typical day, then you could also try setting unavailable times on your phone, having a separate work phone and a personal phone, or only having access to your work emails and apps via your laptop.
Talk to your Doctor
It took me a long time to come around to this one. I am a high achiever and a perfectionist, I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I found it hard to accept this was something I couldn’t just fix myself. I tried exercise and music, a gratitude diary, meditation, spending more time with friends and family… all of those things helped, but nothing fixed the daily overwhelm.
When my doctor asked me if I experienced a lot of anxiety, I said no. Then I explained to her how that morning I had been trying to put my daughter’s jumper on, and both my kids were asking me for things over the top of each other with ever-increasing volume, and I just felt this rising sense of overwhelm until I exploded and yelled. She looked me straight in the eye and said: “that’s anxiety.”